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Here and Now (or how)!

February 7, 2015

Having written for a decade for narthaki, I re-read some of my Dance History columns and reports and reviews and realised while, as a specialist, I was sharing snippets of our history and heritage, what also interested me were trends and young India. The word - TRENDING - caught my attention. Trending Now. Young India is trending says Twitter. The nation wants to know! The people of India want to know...!

Young India wants to do, not merely know. It wants to know what its future with dance is. Their future. Period. Most are not interested in heritage and history and even seeing other's work. Young India just wishes to perform and get known. Young India has the brains for being smart and enough substance to get by but most are increasingly outsourcing their wares. Smart phones are no substitute for smart people. Young India is on another trip. A trip of self discovery and self projection. Add self absorption. When an sms can go viral, a visual can cause an epidemic, what of a million mutinies that the dance world exposes one to?

Which is why, when without a plan 5 years ago, we innocently created a platform for young and not so young dancers in Bangalore - "DD", the Dance DISCourse Series at Alliance Francaise - we didn't realize this small space and seed would become a mighty oak.....30 shows and 6th year coming! Nearly 700 dancers platformed and projected. Many rare films seen and memorable discussions held. The free space and support given by AF made all the difference. The Directors of AF in last 6years since we began - Nino Ciccorone, then Phillipe Giasspirani and now Mikael de la Fuente - and its continuing President for two terms scholar Chiranjiv Singh and Consul General Dominique Causse and now Eric Lavertu, made it possible for our team of Anuradha Narayan (now Prutha), Geetha Bhatt, dancers Madhulita Mohapatra, Praveen Kumar, Tushar Bhat, Muralimohan Kalva, Nandini Mehta, Madhu Nataraj, N. Gururaj, Mehgna Das and many, many more to contribute their time and energy to make it happen. It is a team work. This is truly a people's festival and forum we have created for and in Bangalore, where now the world wishes to come to.

In most cities, no neutral and nice space is available for dance. Big stages are expensive and even if one can afford it, where to get audiences from? Very few stages are available for young dancers, who don't have to cajole some ageing sabha secretary or uncaring govt. bodies or fellow gurus and dancers to put them on stage. Our Dance DISCourse afforded selected dancers to just come and perform and our secret jury shortlisted them for our annual awards. Hope other cities follow. Already Baroda, Bhubaneswar, Bombay are. Ahmedabad, Delhi next. TRENDING!

TRENDING: Young India is also helping each other. “You come to my festival, I come to yours...” syndrome. Sometimes all paid for by tax payers' money, courtesy govt. schemes. This way, much more mobility is being provided to young dancers and they are multi tasking between running companies of their own, to juggling jobs with dance and performance tours.

Sneha, a budding architect, who was part of the Coonoor Riverside Camp organised ably by Sahrdaya last October, asks me an innocent question: “Why are you helping me, sir?” I say: “No one helped us when we were growing up, that simple. India of 30 years ago, when we were Sneha's age, 22 or so, our seniors or elders were aloof, distant and strict. They were tough task masters, rarely offering much praise or paise! It was a long, arduous journey. We were taught tolerance, patience, acceptance and agreement. We were told “abhi bachche ho” (you are just a kid) by the veterans of the world, who never wanted anyone to grow. Nothing ever grows under banyan trees. We saw same pattern being repeated, nay, cloned by the next generation.

Try doing that today. Young India has no time, no patience, no real tolerance. They have much choice and some money to buy an expensive piece of gadget but not a book. They roam from guru to guru without having heard the adage, ‘A rolling stone (real ones, not the rock group!) gathers no moss.' They are hungry and want more. The real area of concern is; where does this want stop? What's the glass ceiling?

In dance, is it awards, shows, tours? How many and why? Are numbers enough? What of quality? With increase in volumes and voices, that's the first casualty. Quality. Who decides that, asks young India? Who decides quality? Gurus, who are mostly money-making machines or PR agents palmed off as critics with zero credibility? Or is quality decided by real TV talk shows that talk and show?

So who decides quality? Thus, who decides the worth of a production? Who can then sell or market such a show? Since none of above apply, this shows why most dance shows rarely get repeat billing or tours abroad. Not one production from India can run in a professional hall abroad for more than a week. Magic Lanterna of Czech has run for 75 years!!! DAILY!! - daily despite wars and partition of the country in the last decade. Broadway (that's a long road in New York's Manhattan district - a road to world fame, with most important halls and productions of dance, theatre, films) musicals run successfully for years and some become more famous films. Name one such show in and of India…

I asked this Q of Sam Scripps, bless his soul as he is no more. Sam made and supported many artistes, including our own Ravi Shankar and Bala amma, by his institution in California, then festivals out of New York, including being a patron of ADF and Lincoln Centre. Why a Michael Joseph (that's Jackson for you!) could become a phenomena and not many an Indian artiste? Over a fine dinner after watching the stage version of Lion King (and meeting the entire stage cast of the famous production) he said: Market. One word. The market decides. While this is true of the American Market, we Indians want to make money but are shy to admit it. Young India is no more shy.

Indian arts are also differently abled. How can the core content - divinity, inherent spirituality - of Indian performing arts, especially classical dance and music be marketed? Next few columns will discuss that. Keep tuned. This important question is TRENDING young dancers I see and observe wherever I go. I'm too positive (my blood reads: B Positive!) to be cynical but I see enough to know what's happening. Nationwide. And then some.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed dance historian, biographer, critic and author of many published articles and over 40 books on Indian arts and culture. He served govt. bodies in many capacities and also teaches Indian dance history and aesthetics for university faculties. He is the curator of the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection and chairs the Dance History Society which hosts an annual convention and dance discourses that afford many talents a platform. He has mentored many and instituted five awards through attendance, the dance yearbook he edits and publishes.



Am an admirer of your column - Very interesting, inspiring n appealing!

It becomes more interesting, when it gets resemblance with the readers' life..
You said: "Our seniors or elders were aloof, distant and strict. They were tough task masters, rarely offering much praise or paise! It was a long, arduous journey. We were taught tolerance, patience, acceptance and agreement."

Very true! It was a tough time for me when I wanted to learn Bharatanatyam in my childhood. Though crazy about dance, it was not so easy for a person like me hailing from conservative Muslim family to get into this kind of activities. Thus I had to wait till the age of 20 to find my first guru. Learned for a few years... and now after a gap of 20 years, learning the dance as a young student (without so ease n perfection though).

Sir, Would like to express a bit of disagreement with your contention “Indian arts are also differently abled. How can the core content - divinity, inherent spirituality - of Indian performing arts, especially classical dance and music be marketed?”

Why is it not possible…? Then how come it becomes possible for our so called Human Gods in India to propagate and market their products like spirituality, yoga, life style etc. etc…

Siraj Manjandavida
Muscat (March 18, 2015)

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